The Flash: Fast Enough

"You've saved a lot of people's lives in this past year; now it's time to save yours."

In this powerhouse season finale, the philosophical questions we face regarding time travel finally crystallize. What does it profit a man to change the world if he should lose himself? Barry's finally caught the self-admitted killer of Nora Allen, and has the chance he's been fighting for all season: to save his mother. But what will change if he does?

I was waiting on tenterhooks for the finale, but I have to admit, I was less than overwhelmed. There were a lot of amazing things about this episode. The Flash, much like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., really works well when it shifts from monster of the week to serialized storytelling. When Wells/Thawne starts talking to Barry, we're picking up right where we left off, and Barry's offered a devil's bargain–save his mom, but help Wells too. We then spent a LOT of time following Barry as he speaks to character after character agonizing over whether He Should Do It. And some of these scenes really felt stiff and forced, especially with Iris. Some, such as the one with Cisco, where he asked Barry if he were crazy for thinking of following Wells' suggestions, seemed far more natural and believable.

The stakes are huge. If Barry goes back and succeeds, the whole world might change. It's a huge responsibility, and Barry is aware of this, even if the first twenty minutes seems like agonizing angst.

The sub-plot, if it can really be described as one, was the relationship between Iris/Barry, Iris/Eddie, and Eddie and Himself. I think the three characters actually reached a level of emotional maturity; Iris and Eddie decided to make their own future instead of depend on others, Eddie questioned and decided to build his own future. Paralleling this, Barry and Iris both accepted that there was a reality going on here and whatever might have been is in another world where things might have been. Eddie's prodded to his own realizations by Martin Stein, who I think was bizarrely friendly and gregarious in this episode (wasn't he a lot more cranky before? Maybe his wife is really helping his mood.)

There's a tiny and almost nonsensical third plot about Ronnie coming back with Martin to help Flash and staying around to help out with Wells and Ronnie deciding to propose and Caitlin deciding to marry Ronnie, despite her kiss with Fake Barry a few episodes ago (sorry, Baitlin 'shippers...) their wedded bliss heralds doom because that's what happens on TV; I hear Caitlin will soon follow comic book canon and [spoiler alert] turn into supervillain Killer Frost. I think Caitlin has made some progress in independent character development this season and it was weird to see her just go SURE LET'S GET MARRIED! I feel like some scenes were left on the cutting room floor here.

The plots begin coming together well towards the end; Barry's decision to save his mother sets the stage for time travel using the particle accelerator. Cisco and Wells have a confrontation; Cisco reveals his visions of alternate universes; Wells ignores his tragic story of death and points out that this is an ability and Cisco is a metahuman. Which just proves Cisco's underlying point: Wells doesn't really care. He's inhumane. He tells both Barry and Cisco how proud he is of them, how much he loves them. Those feelings he talks about might be love, but they're dwarfed in Wells' heart by other types of feelings... ones that see humans as insignificant and only power and knowledge as vital. Even Wells' desire to get home is at least partially a strong desire to restore himself to consistent power.

They make a lot of hay about whether or not Barry can pass Mach 2, necessary for time jumping. When it comes down to it, possibly fueled by the agonizing angst of the first twenty minutes, Barry has no problem doing so. I loved the running scene in the accelerator! Barry heads straight back into time, in a scene which reminds me of nothing less than Dorothy flying through the tornado on her way to Oz: he sees, as Wells says, scenes from his own past, present and future (including a shot of Caitlin as Killer Frost?!) There's lots of other images, and I can't identify all of them. Barry's able to get to his mother, but during the fight we've seen again and again (now from a totally new angle) we see Barry from the Future telling Barry from the present not to intervene, to let his mother die. Barry does the hardest thing he has done all season, and listens to Wells stab Nora Allen. This was emotional enough, but when he gets back to the future and fights Wells, Wells is furious and goes apocalyptic. The future Wells wants won't be there because Barry didn't change the past back. I didn't like that Eddie had to sacrifice himself, and time travel always leaves me in huge loops - if Wells never existed, who trained Barry to become the Flash and got Eddie to the point of killing himself so Wells never existed?

I'm not sure if this paradox is the cause, but then a black hole opens over the city, and Barry has to somehow run fast enough to decouple its accretion disk before it destroys the planet and solar system, he jumps up debris to get to the black hole, and we...


At this point I'm cursing and jumping and my husband is looking at me like WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED THERE?

Let's Discuss:

Storytelling problems. I love this show, but the first twenty minutes should have been the first five minutes, and we would have gotten some extra time to explore what was happening with Ronnie and Caitlin and Cisco, and understand the time travel stuff. The first half was too slow, the second was too fast. I get there was a lot happening, but is it normal for the team to just go Oh yes, save your mother, let's let the solar system die?

The wedding. I think Caitlin's superpower is to metahumanely make wedding clothing appear out of thin air. Yes. It was kind of cute, especially Martin performing the ceremony, but the whole thing seemed really just out of nowhere.

The scene with Barry revealing himself as the Flash to his mom, telling his dying mother he and his Dad are okay in the future... if I were a dying parent, those would be things I would want to know, so I found the scene strangely very touching and showing a mature side to Barry... he'll hurt and he'll tremble and cry but he'll get up and do something meaningful. People bash Gustin, but I think this kind of scene proves he's right for the Flash.

Maybe all these talking with individuals and saying goodbye and agonizing and getting married is happening because whatever happens next season is going to really change the world? I wonder.

What's going to happen to Eddie? He was sucked into the wormhole. Into the future? Wells also mentioned Rip Hunter.

And another notable: the helmet that rolled out of the wormhole before Wells tried to leave? That looks like Jay Garrick's helmet, one of the other Flashes from the comics!


Cisco: "So long and thanks for all the fish." (I love Douglas Adams quotes!)

Wells: (to Cisco) "You can see through the vibrations of the Universe."
Cisco: "What?"


Can the awesomeness of the last 30 minutes make up for the agonizing slowness of the first 15/20? Oh, definitely, and if you can ignore trying to figure out the logic of how Barry is going to run around on a black hole's accretion disk, the final scenes are seriously electrifying and you can tell the writers are pushing these characters to the limit. I have a feeling Wells will be back. There has to be more for him.

Three and a half out of four time-travel black holes.


Billie Doux said...

JRS, you're absolutely right about all of the flaws in this episode. I especially was just driven nuts by the idea that Barry was risking the entire freaking planet to go back in time, not to mention the already existing lives of everyone he loved possibly changing beyond recognition. Not going at all was so obviously the correct conclusion to draw, and yet it was also so obvious that he would go, anyway. Next time, Barry, listen to Cisco.

But I still thought this was a terrific finale, because it got to me. Barry saying goodbye to his mother made me cry, and I didn't think The Flash could make me cry. I loved all the obvious set-up for the Legends spinoff, too.

Congratulations on finishing an entire season of reviews, JRS!

Anonymous said...

I liked that Barry prioritized the biased decision above the more rational one at this point in his journey. It would have been absurd if he had made the latter just because the audience is more mature.

Jess Lynde said...

I agree with so many of your points, JRS. There were a lot of moments to enjoy, and a lot that seemed bizarrely random or nonsensical.

Barry going back but still having to let his mother die was really, really powerful. I cried, too, Billie. But then they kind of undercut the lingering power of that moment by throwing in time travel confusion and headaches. Instead of being left on the emotional gutpunch of losing Nora again and losing Eddie, I was left going, "Wait? How the hell does that work?" I just can't wrap my head around Wells ceasing to exist, but everything that he made happen not ceasing to exist. I love time travel stories, but they can so easily veer into "doesn't make sense" territory. I wonder if I should hope for this one to eventually make sense, or just throw my hands up in frustration and try to go with the flow. :)

I did like the reveal that Cisco was able to "remember" the previous timeline because of a previously undetected meta-ability. An interesting twist.

Patrick said...

I didn't have as strong an issue with with Ronnie and Caitlin getting married as they were always presented as engaged. This felt more like them saying our reality could be over tomorrow so let's at least make sure we get married while we can.

Yes, I did feel the slowness of the first half but I've always felt the strongest performances on the show were Grant and any of his father figures interacting together and that made a lot of it ok for me.

I was sorry to see Eddie killing himself. I enjoy the character and would have liked to see more. The cynical part of me says the same result of stopping Thawne could have been done with a vasectomy (as I'd read another commenter point out elsewhere).

As for some of the other scenes we saw in Barry running back in time: besides Killer Frost, we also see a scene from Legends of Tomorrow..there is also a shot of the Flash Museum, which shows up frequently in the comics...and though I didn't see this, I'm told Barry in handcuffs--which makes me wonder if Barry's identity will be made public and whether he'll be held accountable for holding the metahuman criminals prisoner without due process.

So many possibilities for next season, I'm already chomping at the bit!

Joseph Pennycook said...

My main problem with this show is that so much of the drama seems to rest on whether Barry can run fast enough, and a) he definitely will be able to run fast enough, at least in the end, and b) I have no emotional stakes in how fast Barry can run. Like there was a line between Barry and Joe, which went something like:

"What if I can't run fast enough?"
"I know you will."

And that just leaves me cold, because that doesn't show us that Joe cares about Barry, or believes that he's a good person, or anything else that I might find interesting. From that line we learn that Joe believes that Barry can run fast. I also believe that. Everyone believes that!

I dunno, maybe my problem is usually people are asking "What if I'm not strong enough?", and 'strong' can be taken to mean emotional strength or various other things, so it has more grounding, but fast literally only means 'able to run quickly', which is much less interesting.

sunbunny said...

I really liked the finale. The scene between Joe and Barry really tugged at my heartstrings (HE CALLED HIM DAD) and I was a puddle of tears during the scene with his mom. Just thinking about it is making me tear up.

I thought Caitlin and Ronnie's impromptu wedding was beyond precious. It made total sense to me. They were engaged and with their lives they have no idea what the future would hold so them getting married on the fly was sort of perfect. They'd waited long enough.

As for Eddie killing himself...I mean, it was sort of obviously where we were headed but it was still sad. I liked him. When he wasn't being all macho alpha male-y over Iris. They're going to have to do backflips to make Iris/Barry a viable relationship again. Last week she was giving Barry hope, here she chose Eddie only to see him die. She can't go running to Barry without making it seem gross for a long time now. She's already coming off as unfaithful and indecisive in a fairly sexist sort of way. The writers have their work cut out for them if they want to dig themselves out of that hole.

Tim said...

Small point but can you flag comments like "I hear Caitlin will soon follow comic book canon and turn into ..." as potential spoilers in your future reviews?

I'm not familiar with the comics and always avoid the previews for future episodes as I really dont want to know what's coming.


Josie Kafka said...

Hi Tim,

We're sorry about the spoiler! I edited the review so that it's in white font with a spoiler warning now to save others.

Tim said...

Great. Thanks Josie. Appreciated :-)

Billie Doux said...

TVLine gave Grant Gustin 'performer of the week' for this episode.

Josie Kafka said...

Excellent review, JRS! I completely agree with you about the pacing problems, but I also enjoyed this season finale.

I'm really happy with this show in general. It's such a pleasure to watch.

percysowner said...

I didn't have a problem with Caitlin and Ronnie getting married because they were engaged when the particle accelerator blew up. This was just making sure it happened before the world went crazy again.

As to the paradox of Thawn never being born. I'm going with parallel universes. This universe holds onto being the where Thawn came back in time, killed Barry's mother , then made the Flash to try and get back to his time. Then there is another universe where Barry's mother lived because no one came back to kill Barry because Thawn was never born, but we don't see that universe. There is probably a universe where Iris told Barry she loves him, Cisco died and Joe was being held on the Island by the Weather Wizard and then the universe went on from there. It's not a great explanation, but I'm going with Barry setting up various parallel universes. Maybe this will get explained next season or as part of the new series.

Finally, Thawn was angry because Barry didn't change the past. All Thawn wanted was the wormhole. Thawn was angry because Barry destroyed the Time Machine, so Thawn couldn't use it to go back home. It's sad that they didn't have time for a quickie vasectomy, but Eddie did the right thing and went out a hero.